On 23 April the Courtyard Café was reignited with Baked Shakespeare’s raucous rendition of the English playwright’s As You Like It. Their second performance in Stellenbosch this year had the audience enthusiastically selecting Orlando, the lead — played by S’Qhamo Mangcu — and his brother, Oliver — played by James Stoffberg — to be the smoking victims under its zealous command. With all five fie’s enacted within the first-half of the show, the cast was in for a hearty Stellenbosch send-off.
Baked Shakespeare, the theatre company that incorporates weed-smoking during their performance (at the behest of their audience),takes pride in presenting plays that speak to our modern climate and engage with those watching. With Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night under their belt, they returned to Stellenbosch with a successful take on As You Like It.
“It’s another gender-bendy vibe, it feels a lot more relatable,” Juliette Rose-Innes, the show’s director, explains.
She explains why they chose that specific play, “It mainly deals with human emotion and theme as opposed to a very strong storyline.”
The comedic elements of the plot are expertly enhanced by the cast’s extravagance (flowing particularly from the members five bowls deep), which leaves the audience in stitches. The engagement with the audience is an integral part of the show’s concept. The cast and director prioritise their viewer’s enjoyment and ensure that they have fun watching the play, in a way that transcends simply laughing at people getting high.
Erin Gemmell — the actor for Audrey — comments, “What’s so nice about playing to audiences like [Stellenbosch] is that it really is […] a group that can take the weed in its stride, but […] also connect so strongly with the actual story.”
Stoffberg further says, “Baked Shakespeare is very much about connecting with the audience and making [it] a part of the show […] even if that means we’re going to break character because we’re giggling on stage, we know that the audience is still going to have fun with that.”
Their Stellenbosch audience displayed an openness towards fellow audience members smoking with the cast.
Gemmell explains, “It’s such an open space and [smoking together] creates a lot of trust between the audience and the actors […]”
The cast doesn’t deny that the opportunity to smoke is a selling point for their show, but ventures to say that the performance may even be more enjoyable sober. The cast has learnt the value of this bond with their audience after a year of performing both Twelfth Night and As You Like It to many different audiences in many different contexts. Jake Maisel, the founder of Baked Shakespeare, jokes that Twelfth Night was their first good show.
He adds that the theatre company has grown naturally since its start two years ago — so much so that it is now a licensed model, meaning that interested parties can buy the concept overseas. More than twenty additional shows of As You Like It are on the cards for the company: a mention of the National Arts Festival (NAF) in June was met with whoops of excitement from the audience.
Maisel shares, “The crazy thing is [the festival organisers are] letting us do the proper concept so […] we’re smoking bongs on stage at NAF!”
Their excitement over the opportunity to do their show properly is encouraged by their fans’ support of the concept. “It’s amazing that they remember most of their lines with their brains like mush. It’s something different and that’s engaging,” Michael Christison, an audience member and avid supporter, comments.
The professionalism of the cast and crew in producing the best show possible shows. With none of their rehearsals involving the weed at all, the cast’s phenomenal acting abilities emerge amongst giggling fits and forgotten lines.
The actors remaining sober throughout the show are required to stare in earnest, without any indication that anything is amiss, as their fellow castmate does a dance break in an attempt to recall his words. Beyond humbling displays of the very high actor behind the character, the production of the show exceeds expectations — whether there be weed or no weed.
Every member’s dedication to fulfilling the height of entertainment is shown in their complete submission to the theatrics required to pull off the Shakespeare play. With enrapturing chemistry between the cast that clearly displays their bond, and musical numbers using the melody of hits by Taylor Swift, One Direction, ABBA, George Michael, and The Beatles, it is undeniable that they bring something to the table far beyond the dramatic exhale of smoke mid-performance.
Rose-Innes explains, “A whole lot of annoying intellectual culture made people think that Shakespeare isn’t consumable and fun and for everyone, and I think we make it fun and consumable and for everyone.”